We had first seen the house in April, at the mention of a real estate friend of ours, Sue Wenrick. On a rainy Saturday morning we drove to the house, a two-story Tudor with the most beautiful flowering magnolia in the front yard. After a brief wait on the tiled front porch, the daughter of the owner let us in.
While the damp air outside may have contributed to the effect, the dank odor inside the house was surely not from the weather. The foyer's oak floor had been overcome by awful green carpet that had certainly matured in the late 70's before bonding to the floor and slowly disintegrating over the last decade. The same carpet covered the entire living room, which was reasonably clean, excluding various debris and the weight lifting bench that occupied the prime space in front of the fireplace. The hearth was set back in an inglenook with leaded glass cabinets and deep bench seats to either side, and matching cabinets filled in the space to either side of the window on the end. Oak columns with strong, flared tops appeared to hold up the room, and heavy oak trim around flat plaster panels finished the tops of the walls. The window that once looked out onto the front porch had sadly been replaced with glass block, the old wooden sill replaced with a crooked slice of marble.
Holes in the living and dining room ceilings exposed inept plumbing repairs, which were no match for the work visible in the dining room wall. On a copper water pipe, green corrosion bloomed from underneath tape bandages and trailed all the way down into the basement. The floor here was coated in an egg-carton pattern of dark and light grime, evidence of carpet padding thankfully removed some time before. Underneath lay narrow oak planks, no doubt very beautiful just a millimeter beneath the muck.
A sunroom off the dining room was filled to the sills with junk, including a play house and an old 8-bit Nintendo system. The outside doors wouldn't close, and an entire panel of windows beside the door was broken out. Even a pane of the interior doors had been broken, though the bb-gun holes in some of the exterior panes were more concerning.
There was a small room between the dining room and kitchen in which a washer and dryer stood dormant, power cables and hoses laid out across them. The floor beneath was ancient, tired green linoleum, certainly laid down long before either of us were conceived. But here the worst smell in the house strengthened, and we saw the ochre yellow stove with pots of stagnant fluid and unidentifiable meats stewing in them. A greasy table squatted in the middle of the room, preventing easy motion through the kitchen. The sink was encrusted with rust and hair, the faucet missing entirely, leaving only a stump from which I imagined water might dribble forth. The vinyl floor was worn through in spots, missing entirely in others, exposing the next vinyl floor down.
We went through the closet back to the foyer, then up the creaky front stairs. The walls were generally clean, with only minor plaster damage here and there. Upstairs, the green carpet reappeared, just as worn as downstairs, but much dustier. The bathroom was no surprise; the tub held onto its last two inches of brackish water while the sink struggled to keep the same standard. The toilet lid had been broken, and a deep green department store bag filled the space, presumably to keep the mice from drowning in the tank.
The first bedroom was a shrine to Christ, His image in mottled newsprint color taped to the wall to the left of what was presumably a window before it was covered with plastic and brown flowered drapery fragments. Two more pictures to the right completed the shrine, and a dark brown easy chair sat in the middle of the room, not facing any particular direction. I'm sure the chair's feet were comfy, since they were sitting on at least three layers of carpet and padding. Walking across the middle of the room was like stepping on thick moss. A bullet hole in the front window spoiled the otherwise calm aspect of the room. I wondered if it was a drive-by or just a memento of New Year's celebrations a few blocks away.
The children's purple and graffiti bedrooms were mostly empty, save bunkbeds and a dresser in one that held the tv up. The television umbilical cord ran over the door and into the Jesus room, then into the closet and through the floor. Probably not a professional job, though you never know with some cable companies. Another droning tv drew us into the master bedroom. Bright turqoise fields trimmed by fire engine red mouldings, with red carpet and curtains to match. The obviously uneven floor strained under the weight of a waterbed. A mirrored door led us out into the sleeping porch, which was brightly lit despite the rain outside. Fishing magazines and paraphenilia strewn about, bent metal shelves keeping yellowed paperbacks off the floor, stickers on the blue and pink walls, and so on.
The attic was a true rat's nest. Girlie magazines and comics came up to our shins, and general debris filled in the rest. Two unfinished rooms had twelve inches of cellulose pumped into them, though in the front room a brown sleeper sofa nestled into the insulation, protecting a pigeon egg while the egg's adoptive parents fluttered about the window across the room, feeling a bit perturbed that we had dared to enter their room.
And then to the basement, where waste pipe rains from the powder room had taken out the last few feet of bannister and the last two steps. Buckets and coolers on the wet concrete struggled to keep up with the continual drips from this mess. Beyond them, genuine graffiti from real-live 18-year olds in the late seventies decorated the hallway walls and most of the potentially fabulous bar under the living room. The wooden floor in the bar moved like a worn-out trampoline underfoot, though the plaster dust and chunks prevented any further comparison here. The faded can of Miller High Life left in the window well since the graffiti was painted added a nice bit of ambience. A storage room and most of the laundry room were covered in dust and debris, most of it from the plaster that had covered the ceiling. The coal room had a better excuse, the coal having filled the corner for at least a decade, whenever the original coal furnace had been hauled away for scrap.
We thought we'd seen a lot of debris, but we still hadn't seen inside the three-car garage. Therein lay the most impressive debris heap I have ever known. Car parts, an old Atari game system and a few scattered cartridges, stereo hunks, broken luggage, and the centerpiece, a stripped 1984 Honda Accord, its carburettor bared for all to see. (This explained the car parts against the wall, at least.)
After thanking the daughter and our realtor, we drove home to consider the house. The asking price was $65,000, which seemed reasonable for a 3000 square foot house and garage, even considering the condition. Because the basic structure of the house was good and it was livable (which is to say people were living in it), it seemed entire reasonable that the place could be brought up to our standards with a little work, and that we could then take as many years as we wanted to bring it up to a "finished" state. Once I promised Peg that I'd be the one doing the work (after all, I always complained of being bored when I got home after work), it was agreed that we would make an offer to buy the house.
updated: 28 January 1997